One of the six Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray defended himself in court on Wednesday, claiming that Gray never gave him a reason to call a medic.
Gray was arrested in April for allegedly fleeing after making eye contact with police in a high-crime area. Gray died in the police van after being arrested due to a spinal cord injury and has since been portrayed by the Black Lives Matter movement as a victim of "police brutality." The officer defending himself on Wednesday, Officer William Porter – who happens to be black – is being charged with manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office, and reckless endangerment because he didn't buckle Gray's seatbelt and call a medic when he checked on Gray during the fourth van stop.
Porter said that he had heard Gray, who was handcuffed and shackled in the back of the van, screaming about needing an inhaler, so he stopped to check on him.
Gray's autopsy revealed that he had drugs in his system at the time of the arrest, and that his fatal spinal injuries were due to him "yelling and shaking the van."
"I didn’t call for a medic after talking to Freddie Gray; he was unable to give me a reason for a medical emergency," Porter said.
Porter denied that Gray said he couldn't breathe, although one of the prosecution's witnesses claimed she had phone conversation with Porter in which he said that Gray said he couldn't breathe. That phone conversation was not recorded.
When asked why he didn't buckle Gray with a seatbelt – which is department policy – Porter said the van was "pretty tight" and had never needed to buckle anyone's seatbelt in the van before.
Gray's autopsy revealed that he had drugs in his system at the time of the arrest, and that his fatal spinal injuries were due to him "yelling and shaking the van." He likely wouldn't have died had he "remained in the prone position the police had put him in."
National Review's Andy McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, believes that the manslaughter charges against Porter are "suspect":
The prisoner was apparently lying on the floor, complaining about difficulty breathing and moving. He asked for a doctor, but Porter instead helped him up and seated him on the rear compartment’s bench, enabling Goodson to continue the ride. For that decision, Porter is charged with manslaughter — even though Gray was communicative and able to move with assistance; even though Porter may have concluded (perhaps reasonably, even if incorrectly) that it made more sense to have the van take Gray the short remaining distance to Central Booking, where any necessary help would be available, than to wait for a medic.
Image (via AP): "William Porter, one of six Baltimore city police officers charged in connection to the death of Freddie Gray, arrives at a courthouse for jury selection in his trial, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015, in Baltimore. Porter faces charges of manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office."